Affordability in Sustainability

A while back ago, there was a scandal involving Martin Shkreli and his pharmaceutical company.  What happened was, he hiked up the prices for live-saving treatment for AIDS by over 5000%, from $13.50 to $750 per pill.  When faced with criticism for his price hike, he claimed on Twitter that this move was “good for business” and that it was “only logical”, considering that his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, was relatively small, and he needed the money to keep the business going.  He faced quite a bit of backlash from this business move, ranging from individuals on Twitter to even getting critical statements from politicians such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  While the backlash he is getting is equivalent to his crime, it’s important to look at the structures in our society and our mindset that would motivate him to attempt such a price hike in the first place.

Shkreli’s line of thought for this drastic price raise is something that almost all companies share: the need to obtain maximum profits while providing a particular service.  Shkreli’s business move is something that can be easily criticized, not only because his conducting of business here was blatantly criminal, but also because the price hike disconnected him from potential patients, which, from a business mindset, would cause a decrease in profits.  However, in a way, this conducting of business has been going on for a very long time.

It’s very common in our society to put a price tag on basic necessities.  The act of putting patents on products such as life-saving medicine itself is a phenomenon that prevents those living in poverty – and thus, the ones who will most likely need the treatment the most – from getting the treatment necessary for them.  The act of selling water bottles is capitalizing on a human necessity, with Nestlé being the most insidious, considering it’s using water in California – a place currently in a devastating drought.  Vacant houses outnumber the amount of homeless people in America, and they aren’t being used because people are unable to pay for them.  The list can go on.

With this in mind, we look towards the future.  Suppose we invest more in renewable resources and sustainable technology, and develop them to the point where they are available for public use.  With current business practices, the individual who invented them could patent them and control the price tag of the product, and thus, the accessibility of this product to the public.  It’s essentially the same situation as stated above; it’s a price tag on something that actually helps people in the long run, and it’s only aiding the people who can afford the product.

This is something to keep in mind when discussing the future of sustainability.  For those who truly want to help, patents are a ginormous obstacle, and we must find a way to bypass them and weaken their effect on business, if not get rid of them altogether.

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One comment

  1. andrewwingfield · December 5, 2015

    This is a very interesting topic, Julie. Are you familiar with Vandana Shiva? I suggest you look at her book Earth Democracy. She writes very powerfully about the ‘enclosure’ of what she calls the Commons, which is basically the privatization for profit of resources that have traditionally been owned by the public and used for the common good. This is indeed a threat to sustainability.

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